You are not the head coach of the Cleveland Browns. God is not mad at you. You are not stuck in ministry purgatory, waiting for God to move you to the big city where real ministry is done. You are the pastor of a small church in a small town and you are right where God wants you to be.
You may not know it yet but you are being used by God. He is doing great things through you. But that can be hard to see when you preach to 60 people every Sunday morning. Questions about your effectiveness can linger a little longer when your last three sermon series haven’t yet been turned into books.
But hang in there. God’s glory isn’t dependent upon how many TV cameras are in your church, how many satellite campuses you have to be driven to on Sunday mornings or how many Twitter followers you have. God’s glory isn’t dependent upon you at all. But still, it would be nice to be a part of making that glory known. Don’t worry. You are. Just stay faithful. As you do, here are a few things to remember.
1. Watch your Bible Belt assumptions.
I live in a small southern town. More than once I’ve heard it referred to as “the buckle of the Bible belt.” There are churches on every corner. Ask someone if they’re saved and you will usually get the same answer.
Your town is probably a lot like mine. But don’t let that fool you. A while back a lady in my church was telling another woman about Jesus. The lady’s response to the name of Jesus was unforgettable.
I talked to another woman who leads Bible studies for young single mothers. She said that one mother told her that this was the first time she had ever held a Bible.
Call it the buckle of the Bible Belt all you want. Just remember that as times change, that buckle is getting smaller and smaller.
That’s part of why God has placed you where he has. People in your town, even the ones who grew up hearing about Jesus, need the gospel.
2. Rethink missional.
For some, missional means sitting at the popular table in our culture’s lunch room. It means sipping coffee inside of a trendy bistro while examining the finer points of theology with a couple of the writers of Lost. And that’s great. If you live in New York or L.A. But not if you live in Booger Bottom, Georgia. Yes, that’s a real town.
Missional in places like Booger Bottom means turkey hunting, getting to know the lady in charge of the housing authority and drinking your coffee at the Huddle House. Or Dairy Queen. Or Dari King. Yes, that’s real too.
A lot of our talk about moving toward people in need is just cover for our real intentions of moving to places where we would just really like to live to be with people who we really wish we were more like. That’s not always the case. But sometimes it is.
The teenager in the trailer park who is forced to play dad for his three younger brothers needs Jesus. Your coolness factor can’t save him. Neither can your ability to be relevant. But, if you’re obedient, you just might be one of the instruments God uses to bring salvation to this kid and his family.
If God wanted your favorite celebrity pastor to reach the people in your town, he would move him there. But he hasn’t. So stop trying to be him. Start trying to be a little more like the people who actually live around you.
3. Cut the grass.
Ministry is not like building a house. After two or three months of hard work, you don’t always get to see the fruits of your labor. Sometimes you never do. And that can be discouraging. So get a nice lawn mower and enjoy the instant gratification that comes with cutting the grass.
The grass was tall. Now it’s not. You did that. Congratulations!
4. Sit a spell.
One of the great things about the south is our unusual sayings. When I was a kid and supper was almost ready my mom would always say, “I’m fixin’ to take it up.” I have no idea what that means.
“Sit a spell” is another classic southern phrase but it actually has a discernible meaning. It means to sit down and stay a while. Don’t be in a hurry to leave.
That’s good advice for pastors.
Most people drive through your small town on their way to some place better. They’re just passing through. May the same not be said of you. God may move you somewhere else tomorrow. But for now, try to keep the mindset that this is the place where you’re going to spend the rest of your life.
Don’t be in a hurry to leave.
Sit a spell.
5. Just say no.
That advice turned out to not be very helpful in regards to our nation’s drug problem. But it can help you, your family and your church.
Although your town is small, your opportunities will be big. You can be the chaplain for the police and the high school football team. You can be the guy waiting at the emergency room for that sick church member to arrive. You can leave your vacations early to put out a fire back home.
And a lot of your people will love you for it.
Just don’t count your wife and kids as part of that adoring group.
If you really care about them, and raising up leaders from your congregation, learn how to say no.
A professional wrestler once told me, “Jesus died for the church. You don’t have to.”
But you will unless you learn to say no.
6. Point your church to their real pastor.
It is very easy for a pastor, especially one in a small southern town who manages to stick around for a while, to build his own kingdom. After a certain amount of funerals, weddings and last minute crisis counseling sessions there will be a lot of people who believe that you must be one of the twelve disciples. Some will even be tempted to think that you are the one who led the twelve disciples. And you’ll be tempted to fuel those beliefs.
Make sure that your church knows the truth. Remind them that you are their associate pastor and that Jesus is the one who is in charge (Colossians 1:18). Share your flaws with them. Tell them when you struggle. Ask them to pray for you in areas where you are weak.
Your church needs an example of a flawed man who experiences victory through greater reliance upon the Holy Spirit. You can be that example.
Your church already has a Savior who leads them. They don’t need two. Is all of your hard work being done to build Jesus’ kingdom or yours?
Rest assured, the people that you pastor will find out that you are not Jesus and that your kingdom isn’t so great. They can either find out through your constant, loving confessions or they can find out in the paper.
The degree to which you do battle with your pride will determine how they find out.
Pastor, there is real pain in your small town. People are lost. They are confused. They are hurting. No amount of semi-functional church buildings on every corner or memories of religious traditions can do anything about that. Only the gospel can. And God has ordained that you would be the one to proclaim it to the people in your town.
You may never enjoy all of the success that comes with being a big time pastor.
And that’s okay.
It’s much better to be faithful in Booger Bottom than successful anywhere else.
Hang in there.